Patient Perception of Physician Compassion After a More Optimistic vs a Less Optimistic Message: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Kimberson Tanco, Wadih Rhondali, Pedro Perez-Cruz, Silvia Tanzi, Gary B. Chisholm, Walter Baile, Susan Frisbee-Hume, Janet Williams, Charles Masino, Hilda Cantu, Amy Sisson, Joseph Arthur, Eduardo Bruera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


IMPORTANCE: Information regarding treatment options and prognosis is essential for patient decision making. Patient perception of physicians as being less compassionate when they deliver bad news might be a contributor to physicians' reluctance in delivering these types of communication.

OBJECTIVE: To compare patients' perception of physician compassion after watching video vignettes of 2 physicians conveying a more optimistic vs a less optimistic message, determine patients' physician preference after watching both videos, and establish demographic and clinical predictors of compassion.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Randomized clinical trial at an outpatient supportive care center in a cancer center in Houston, Texas, including English-speaking adult patients with advanced cancer who were able to understand the nature of the study and complete the consent process. Actors and patients were blinded to the purpose of the study. Investigators were blinded to the videos observed by the patient.

INTERVENTION: One hundred patients were randomized to observe 2 standardized, roughly 4-minute videos depicting a physician discussing treatment information (more optimistic message vs less optimistic message) with a patient with advanced cancer. Both physicians made an identical number of empathetic statements (5) and displayed identical posture. After viewing each video, patients completed assessments including the Physician Compassion Questionnaire (0 = best, 50 = worst).

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Patients' perception of physician compassion after being exposed to a more optimistic vs an equally empathetic but less optimistic message.

RESULTS: Patients reported significantly better compassion scores after watching the more optimistic video as compared with the less optimistic video (median [interquartile range], 15 [5-23] vs 23 [10-31]; P 

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Patients perceived a higher level of compassion and preferred physicians who provided a more optimistic message. More research is needed in structuring less optimistic message content to support health care professionals in delivering less optimistic news.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Identifier: NCT02357108.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-183
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA oncology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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